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When Mothers aren’t like other Mums

Updated: Apr 4, 2021

By Dr Marianne Trent, Clinical Psychologist

One of my most engaged social media posts didn’t actually get loads of public engagement. It wasn’t shared that much. There weren’t many comments, so you probably didn’t see it. But it resonated with people. I know that for a fact. How do I know? Because they messaged me privately.

It was a post for people who just don’t have that ‘My Mum is my best friend’ kind of relationship with their Mother. I shared it on U.K. Mother’s Day so that it could help validate people’s thoughts, feelings and experiences. And it did, because the messages were coming through like “Oh, thank you! I thought it was just me who felt this way!” and

“I dread Mother’s Day and hate seeing all the adverts everywhere because it makes me feel awful!”

and “Thank you for talking about this as I feel that it’s a real taboo! This has helped me so much!”

So I decided to open up this conversation some more.

What I know from adults I work with in my role as a Clinical Psychologist is that it’s not just sticks and stones that break bones. Words and an absence of nurturance and validation hurt too. This is not necessarily a case of the kind of parenting which would have led social services to the door had they known, but of course, neglect, violence and abuse are incredibly damaging to people both in childhood and in adulthood too.

What we're often talking about are often the kind of Mothering relationships which didn’t help their offspring to:

  • Feel seen for who they were

  • Valued for being who they are

  • That they are unique and special

  • That their thoughts, feelings and actions are important and matter.

An absence of these factors especially when accompanied with any violence, neglect or abuse can lead to adults who feel heightened anxiety, lowered mood, sometimes even self-harm and / or eating difficulties and most importantly, a sense that they just weren’t ‘shown up’ for. We’re not necessarily talk about being physically shown up for here. It doesn’t always look like late pickups from school or swimming lessons, although of course that might have happened too. We’re talking about the sort of underlying level of deep connection and knowledge that whatever happens….. your Mum has got your back and you’ll be supported and emotionally safe as well as physically safe.

In adulthood this can play out like spending ages fretting over Mother’s Day cards to sift through all of the ones which declare “World’s Best Mum!” “I’m lucky to have my Mum as my Best friend!” “I’m so lucky to have you!” Because, in truth, these offspring, with time, are often able to reflect that actually a different Mum, or certainly a more attuned Mum would have been better for them and that’s actually what they deserved. I say with time, because often people feel that because the love of a Mother to a child should be unconditional, especially if they have their own children now and have found that.

So, if a child didn’t feel loved by their Mum, one of the conclusions they may reach is that it was about them, it was about something personal and unique to them which made their Mum not want to ‘show up’ for them. Clients in my 1:1 therapy, group sessions or The Feel Better Academy, learn to be able to show up for themselves and to know that they are good enough and are worthy of love, care and attention. This knowledge and ‘felt sense’ of connection with themselves and others around them then changes the way they feel and transforms the guilt, shame and nagging doubts they may have carried with them for years. Sometimes, but not always, it even leads to actual conversations with their Mum about what their experiences of having her Mother them was and how this has impacted on them both as children and as adults.

All 5 quotes used in the Mother’s Day post all came from people who contacted me or who I have worked with and you can see them here.

I’d love to know what you think to them and to this article and let’s keep this conversation open! If you have any of your own quotes you'd like me to include in future talks about this let me know. It’s okay if you want to message me privately. Really.

You can learn more about The Feel Better Academy here.


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